Does Police Review Board Have Support? Q#3


CHARTER REVSION-PROPOSED – CIVILIAN POLICE REVIEW BOARD

A proposal for a Police Commissin will be on the ballot. While many other towns and cities have police commissions, there hasn’t seemed to be alot of discussion surrounding this new idea for Wolcott outside of political circles. Last year of course the doors were opened on a slew of complaints within the police department ranging from nepotism and favoritism to sexual harrassment and official misconduct. The result of that episode led to the resignation of former Police Chief Scirpo and other officers. Police Chief Neil O’Leary was hired to straighten out the department, yet lawsuits still linger.

Currently, the Charter provides that the Town Council may launch an investigation into any department of the town. However, the police chief reports directly to the mayor, and in the instance of the former chief’s contract, sometimes these relationships can be very close. As the law enforcement branch of the town, the Police Department must have the trust and respect of the community. While Chief O’Leary has successfully made great strides in improving the morale and structure of the department, the Charter Revision Commission thinks the police board could cut out the politics of running the department. Others believe such a commission could enfuse politiscs into the police or lead to having complaints become more public than is necessary, especially for relatively minor complaints.

Last year, the Mayor referred many of the complaints to the State Police, however that agency took many months to investigate and conclude their reports. In the mean time, however, the Mayor also hired an investigator to interview members of the department and conduct an investigation. Before that review could be concluded, Chief Scirpo voluntarily resigned and the findings of the report were not made public.

To ascertain how to change the town’s governmental structure, perhaps we should see what got the town into the mess in the first place. Earlier this decade, Mayor Denegris and the Town Council at the time approved a life long contract for the police chief. Subsequent Councils could do little to change the terms of the contract, including an automatic annual pay increase. Mayor Dunn however did limit the pay increases in his budgets. This was the first hurdle.

Town Councils are organizations of themselves where its members often naturaly have specific interests they get themselves involved in. Even whlie they are paid a $2000 stipend per year, the Council only meets twice per month and its membership has other jobs. Its involvement into such a specialized and focused department is dependent upon the interest of the elected members. It should be noted that members of the Council were certainly concerned and some were vocal in suggestions that should have been done at the time.

In the opinion of former Councilman O’Brien, he believes that a board such as a police commission could be a good start. However, he hasn’t seen great deal of discussion in the proposed solution publicly and thinks the town should be precise in its remedy. While public hearings were held, unfortunatly little discussion in the way of articles or letters to the editor have been found in the Republican American. The Whisper was unable to attend meetings to cover those either. Public discussion appears muted, although this could be simply due to lack of coverage and information sharing.

As to the idea itself, certainly other towns and cities have police commissions. If the commission is modeled after other towns and there are checks and balances in place to protect certain information while also having the necesary check and balance to ensure the necessary transperancy for a working police department, then the idea should be suppoted. At first glance, it appears that the Charter Revision Commission has met these goals. The idea should be supported, but we would like to see more public input.

You have your chance by clicking on “leave a comment” below.

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